“Engage your core”: Yoga as a protest movement

If you think the only goal of yoga is relaxation and  inward reflection, you may be in for a surprise. Roseanne Harvey, a a Montreal yoga teacher and the co-editor of a new book, 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, & Practice (2012) thinks yoga is also called to awaken “the political body.”

In my research with Canadian SBNRs, I concluded the same thing. The common idea is that SBNRs find each other through health food stores and metaphysical bookshops, and while that might have been true even ten years ago, these days, many smaller booksellers have been driven out of business by the online book trade. This has left a gap that yoga studios are filling, and in the process these businesses are beginning to act as hubs in the spiritual but not religious community. They provide a gathering place, a teaching and if desried, the means to inspire social and political action.

My former home studio in Kitchener-Waterloo, for example, was showing signs of nascent social engagement.

First, an instructor gave several special classes to raise money for the “Kids in Cambodia” campaign, which is part of a larger yoga movement called “Off the Mat into the World” whose mission statement is to use “the power of yoga to inspire conscious, sustainable activism and to ignite grass roots social change.”[1] In an informal conversation with this instructor she told me that that she raised over $6500 for the cause through a combination of yoga classes and door-to-door canvassing. Her campaign was covered in the news media, including an article in the Kitchener Record. Second, following the earthquake in Haiti in February 2010,  the owner of the same yoga studio announced that all smoothie proceeds would be donated the Red Cross for Haitian relief. This effort raised approximately $1700. Finally, the studio also helped one of its employees raise the funds to travel to Africa to donate and help rebuild medical equipment. Through an elaborate campaign that included raffles, donations and a buffet—all subsidized by or held at the studio—she raised over $6000 for the project (Chandler 2011, 192-193).

Although the movement has a long way to go these are positive signs.

But I also agree with yoga teacher and writer Matthew Remski that “modern yoga will not form a real a culture until every studio operates as a soup kitchen.”

[1]  http://www.offthematintotheworld.org . Last accessed July 23, 2010.